Thursday, May 29, 2008

Lost Finale Tonight

So, I'm a huge Lost fan. It's maybe the only episodic TV show that I actually follow week to week. And tonight, in the season 4 finale, death is sure to play a part in at least a minor, if not a major way. First, it has been rumored that one, possibly several major characters will die.

I'm a little worried that one of my favorite characters, Jin, will die tonight since earlier in the season they showed Jin's grave back in Korea as part of a flash-forward. This may have been a ruse to help the Oceanic 6 keep up whatever their lie is, or Jin may actually be dead and we have yet to see how he dies. (The date of his death was the date of the plane crash, so they clearly lied about how he died, either way.) From the previews, everyone looks to be in peril, although we know the so-called Oceanic 6 cannot die in tonight's episode. That means Jack, Kate, Aaron, Sayid, Sun, and Hurley are safe.

I have to say, I'll really be sad if Jin dies. And part of me recognizes that he's "just" a television character. But I have watched his development from a controlling, emotionally abusive husband to a loving, caring man who just wants to get his wife and baby off of the island so that they will be safe. And I can't shake the feeling, as a former English major, that it will be so fitting, with all of this buildup, if he sacrifices himself to save Sun and their child. :(

I recognize this isn't like losing a person in real life. But have you ever felt loss at the death of a television character?

On another note, tonight, we may finally find out what Charles Widmore wants with the island. I've been speculating that he was the original money behind financing the Dharma Initiative's experiments—hence Ben's indictments of him saying Widmore never understood what the island was about and Charles's indictments of Ben saying he stole the island from him. Anyway, one theory is that Widmore is trying to capitalize on the island's potential for immortality. The NY Times delves into that a bit in an excellent article about Lost:

"Widmore apparently wants to exploit the island’s mystical property — but what does it grant, exactly, the power of immortality? The island can heal cancer in some and paralysis in others, but it negates the ability of human beings to reproduce. Pregnant women die there. An occasionally appearing eerie smoke kills people."

The entire article is off topic for this blog, but if you're a fan of the show, I highly recommend reading the piece.

I'm sure I'll have something to write tomorrow once the smoke has settled and we find out how death has taken its toll on Lost.


exurgency/Spectacularrr said...

My belief is that one of the elements that makes narrative of any sort -- literature, theater, film, TV, etc -- particularly compelling is the intimate access that narrative can provide to the life/mind of a character.

This is more than just a safe facsimile for something we lack in our interpersonal life -- though it can be that too. But narrative can go beyond what is possible in real life, providing the audience direct first-hand access to any moment of a character's life, or even to their direct thoughts and mental processes.

So a compellingly intimate character may both provide a sense of personal intimacy that we do not always enjoy in our personal lives, and may even provide a window into personhood that is not available to us outside our own personal life-experience.

It is possible, then, to a know a convincingly created character more completely and intimately than we can ever know another person outside ourselves.

Looked at in these ways, I think it is perfectly understandable and appropriate to feel pain at the loss of a character we've grown close to -- even though the feelings might seem somehow misplaced or illogical when compared to the loss of actual people in real life.

To underscore that point, note that the "loss" of a character doesn't just mean a character's death. We have probably all felt that sense of emptiness and pining when a compelling narrative comes to an end, and there are no further opportunities to commune with or discover that character.

Hence all the public concern about how children might cope with the end of the Harry Potter series -- regardless of Harry's fate (though naturally reactions would have been even more intense if Harry had died). Likewise, I have felt my own ennui at the end of many great books; or, for instance, when Twin Peaks finally petered out, and there was no more new Dale Cooper to discover.

Naturally, these feelings don't come close to the loss and despair we feel at the passing of real people in our lives -- nor should a narrative relationship cause that degree of emotion.

But I would propose that the uniquely intimate access offered by narrative to "how a person is" operates as a sort of mental gym for our understanding of relationships and intimacy -- an opportunity to test our understanding of both others and ourselves, providing a workout for our attitudes and emotions.

And if all that is so, then it would be more sad to me if we could not find narrative opportunities to feel loss at the loss of a beloved character -- and more than sad, a chronic dearth of this sort of catharsis may well lead to a stunted emotional life, a handicapped interpersonal capacity.

Naturally, I have an invested bias in these notions, since I'm a writer myself. Nonetheless, I might even go so far as to say that one of the chief functions of narrative throughout the history of culture has been to help us understand how people are, why others operate as they do, why we are as we are, and who/what we aspire to become.

Thus the very best characters are surrogates through which we comprehend ourselves and others -- through which we gain a richer understanding of what it means to be a person.

Jessica Knapp said...

Well said exurgency. I feel much more noble in my impending sense of sadness. I like your comparison to the sense of loss you feel when a character leaves your life due to the end of a series. It is like a death when you no longer have access to their lives through the television or through the written page. And those are two great examples you provide. (SPOILER FOR TWIN PEAKS) I felt so much more at ease leaving Harry Potter, whose life was wrapped up so sweetly and nicely than I did leaving Dale Cooper from Twin Peaks, whose life was left in discord and who was newly possessed by Bob, some sort of incarnation of the devil.

I think you may be right that it is possible to know a created character more completely than we can know another "real-life" person. But I would hesitate to go on from there an say we then have a closer bond to that fictional character. I agree with you though, when you look at it through that lens, it certainly seems reasonable to feel loss if a character passes.

I think it's especially jarring if you go through their journey as a television show originally airs, as I have. So, Jin hasn't just been a sideline figure in my life for a few weeks while I watched the series on DVD, he's been a sideline figure in my life for a few years.

Maybe this is all much ado about nothing for me and Jin won't even be killed off tonight. I guess I can only wait and see. Argh!

exurgency/Spectacularrr said...

"I think you may be right that it is possible to know a created character more completely than we can know another "real-life" person. But I would hesitate to go on from there an say we then have a closer bond to that fictional character."

Fair enough -- if you mean "closer" in the sense of more emotionally significant, then I completely agree with you. Relationships in real life are closer.

However, I meant that in the sense of "more intimately familiar" with how a character's mind operates and why they behave the way they do -- the causal elements that have lead them to the various points in their life. In those respects, we can know characters to a much greater degree of certainty and specificity than we can with real people.

Of course, this is also in part because as a created product, a character is necessarily simpler. The circular shadow of the sphere, if you will. Explanations of behavior / personality for real people are rarely so causally discrete or tidy as they are for characters.

But in addition to the necessarily simpler "manufactured aspect" of a character, we can simply "get into their heads" and "know" them in a way that isn't possible with people. Or perhaps it's more accurate to say that that direct access is because of the flatter nature of the character. And simplifying the elements that constitute and explain the character is part of how we explain ourselves to ourselves.

To abuse my earlier metaphor (and my understanding of topology), we can reach into the two-dimensional circle because we are three-dimensional spheres. (OK, never mind this last part I have no idea what I'm talking about now.) :P